It’s not an uncommon occurrence when I visit Mom to hear “Oh thank God” as a greeting. At first, this was also accompanied by tears and other distressing emotions. Honestly, I wasn’t sure we’d get to a point where Mom didn’t react like a prisoner hoping to be released. Fortunately, that reaction did go away over time. Thankfully not as much time as I thought it would take!
However, it’s not unusual for her to still greet me that way. Initially, I thought it was because something was wrong, at least in her mind. I tried to solve whatever problem was upsetting her but that didn’t always solve the problem.
For a while, I thought this reaction was based on our parent-child relationship. Mom had some interesting ways of interacting with me and her distressed greeting seemed like a way to manipulate me. It certainly didn’t make me feel confident when it seemed something was always wrong!
Beginning to Understand
I learned, through countless hours of internet searching, and reading till my eyes blurred, that it’s not unusual for a memory-impaired person to display fretful emotions. It’s also common for them to follow you around constantly. When I understood how strange & frightening the world must be when you forget everything, was able to take her distressed greeting much more in stride.
I realized that I’d get a more negative greeting if she was wandering in the hall with her dog, or if a staff member had entered her room. They do that regularly to make sure the dog has had an opportunity to go outside, but it can frequently upset my Mom because it’s hard for her to understand why someone else is barging in to take care of HER dog.
I don’t get a negative greeting if I show up and she’s sitting having conversations with her friends. If you’re caring for a loved one at home however, you most likely don’t have another memory-impaired person there to “entertain” your loved one.
Some of the coping techniques I’ve learned from my internet searches, talking to guests and personal experience seem like fairly simple things to implement. I know I did a few of these things whenever Mom was at my house for an extended period of time.
If your loved one always wants to help find them a simple job to do so you can take care of the big jobs. One holiday before my Dad died I was finishing up a dessert that required crushed peppermint candies for the top. While I frosted I had Mom smash up the candies. Mom has pretty advanced dementia so I had to keep coaching her through the task, keep assuring her she was doing just fine. It gave her something to do and allowed me to do what I needed to do. I enjoy baking and generally find it relaxing but this time it was far from relaxing.
At the time I didn’t have as much daily interaction with Mom so it was painful to have to constantly remind her what to do. Now I realize that giving an impaired person purpose, even a small job like smashing candies is good for their self-esteem and helps them feel more fulfilled. It wouldn’t have been a problem for either of us if after crushing a few candies, I didn’t worry about Mom stopping and questioning the process. I could have told her what she did was perfect which would have allowed her to move on to something else. I could have asked her to put the napkins on the table or make sure everyone had something to drink. Any small task that gave her a purpose and some satisfaction that she was helping would have worked.
When you have no recall you don’t realize you’ve asked the same question 5 times or told the same story every time you see someone again. All of my friends, even the ones who had limited contact with my Mom know her story of the dogs.
When Mom was pregnant with me, my Grandmother (her Mother-in-law) stated that “now that you’re having a baby you’ll be getting rid of the dogs right?” Mom tells this story over and over and over. She has told it so many times that even her friend in the memory care residence knows it by heart. She stated that Mom has told her that story 803 times!
The day this statement came out of her friend’s mouth was a good day. I didn’t laugh out loud because I think both ladies would have been confused, but I laughed inside.
Because I have heard this story too many times I have found ways of derailing her when she starts. Sometimes I ask what other things she did when she was pregnant with me. Other times I ask about other dogs she’s had over the course of my life. ANYTHING not to have to hear that story again. My Grandmother is just shy of 100 and this story is pretty negative about her so I’d really not like to hear it anymore. I’ve heard it far more than. 803 times!
The Right Mindset
Sometimes you may get the same questions over and over which is even more frustrating than hearing the same stories. It doesn’t help to get angry or remind your loved one that you’ve answered that question a dozen times but we’re all human and it’s hard not to get frustrated.
When you get asked the same question repeatedly it’s time to go into detective mode and try to hear the emotion behind the question.
Identifying the emotion (fear, insecurity, anger, loneliness, pain) that may be causing the repetitive question or behavior is the first step. When I visit, Mom frequently she repeatedly asks me what I’ve been up to. It can be hard to answer because she doesn’t remember what I do for a living. We worked together for 15 years! If I get too long-winded describing a new project she loses focus.
When I start to feel frustrated that we can’t have conversations like we used to I remind myself she’s trying to be a bigger part of my life. She’s not trying to annoy me with the same question. She’s trying to connect with me the way she used to.
Just Keep Trying
It’s a work in progress for me, and maybe one I’ll never fully satisfy, but I’m trying to find ways of connecting that are less about normal conversations and more about physically connecting.
At least twice a month I give Mom and her friend a manicure. I shape & polish their nails. Every time one of them asks if I paint nails for a living which I don’t, I try to give a funny answer about what I actually do. I haven’t really come up with anything good enough to share, but my point is this;
Mom wants and needs our connection and can’t really accomplish that solely through conversation so doing something together with her helps give her that connection. I can either be frustrated by this challenge or I can continue to find a way to give her a loving connection that makes me happy too. Maybe that journey is all we’ll get but it’s better than constant frustration.
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